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null Young Adults Learning to (Re)Move Borders: The Global Ecumenical Theological Institute at the World Council of Churches’ 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, August/September 2022

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

“I am looking forward to sharing a unique experience with young people from all over the world and to learn together about how we can overcome dividing borders in our churches and societies,” shared Emma from Sweden, as one of the 137 young adults, mostly students and young researchers in theology from different regions of the world, who participated in the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute (GETI) organised by the World Council of Churches at the occasion of its 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, from 31 August to 8 September 2022.

The vibrancy and motivation to come together and learn at such a major ecumenical event – for most of the participants for the very first time – was contagious. There was a genuine excitement and thirst for learning and for a face-to-face encounter after the disruptive pandemic period.

A four-week online phase in July and August offered the opportunity for the 10 study groups to prepare themselves for this unique experience through studies in six thematic areas: Healing of memories, kairos for creation, witness from the margins, engaging plurality, body politics, and the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence.

The Global Ecumenical Theological Institute offered not only the opportunity to study, but more so a space to encounter and to learn first-hand about how churches of different traditions can work together towards unity and reconciliation. The students of the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute were acutely aware of the double dimension that this collaboration for unity entails: the vision of the unity of the churches can only be seen in its intrinsic connection with the unity of humanity. However, it also emerged from their exchanges that unity should not be confounded with uniformity. It is crucial, as per the participants, to recognise and articulate differences in worldviews, spiritual practice, and moral standpoints, and to discover the richness of this diversity, which can nevertheless lead to transformative action based on shared values.

Climate change, its effects on the environment and the livelihood of people, as well as the possibility of overcoming the harsh realities of religiously motivated violent conflicts in contexts with deep societal rifts and power struggles over access to resources. Against this background, the young theologians brought their own stories and experiences – from their war-torn contexts of the Great Lakes region in Africa, from the marginalized ethnic minorities in Finland and Myanmar, Coptic migrant communities from Egypt in Canada, and many more – into the ecumenical conversations at the Assembly.

They insisted that the topics for study should not only be theoretically anchored, but serve practical purposes. They also asked uncomfortable questions, for example on how churches can be more authentic witnesses of a liberating message for all – in neighbourhood and collaboration with other religions and in respect for the dignity of those whose voices remain often unheard such as indigenous people, women, and young people. They experienced at the Assembly how their own articulations find resonance in the claims the younger delegates made for more representation and inclusion in the decision-making processes of the ecumenical fellowship.

As one of the 20 academic facilitators from various countries and higher education institutions of the world, who had the privilege to accompany these emerging theologians, I realised together with my colleagues the responsibility for creating a conducive pedagogical environment that allows for reflection on the cutting-edge issues of our time against the background of lived experiences. Therefore, the strongest contribution this educational initiative has to offer may be that it assists in nurturing the agency of these young adults in developing viable solutions to the challenges our world is facing. It is not a ‘banking education’, which Paolo Freire denounced, an education that emphasises the transfer of knowledge, but the reflective engagement with the world as it is – in its frailty, with all its injustices, disparities and divisions – and the world as it should be. Hope, imagination, creativity and a shared vision that it is possible to live together nourished the encounters, the prayers, the singing, laughter and meals shared. It was vital that both the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute participants and the Assembly delegates experienced these two dimensions of the painful divisions and borders, and the strength arising from the determination to remain together against all odds, thereby gently (re)moving borders.

The Global Ecumenical Theological Institute is a valuable example of offering a space for young people and emerging researchers to participate in current public debates and to make their own voices heard. Sustaining and deepening the intergenerational conversation on issues of ethical relevance is also a crucial mandate for, as it is closely related to remaining connected to the pulse of the time and to equipping the next generation of leaders for shaping a world that will remain livable for the not-yet-born.

For further information on the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute 2022 see the following articles on the WCC website:

Amélé Adamavi-Aho Ekué
Academic Dean